Fresh challenge for Le Mans Series as Monza beckons The historic circuit of Monza, on the outskirts of Milan, prepares to welcome the Le Mans Series for the second race of the 2008 season. A fantastic opening round in Barcelona saw Peugeot, ...
Fresh challenge for Le Mans Series as Monza beckons
The historic circuit of Monza, on the outskirts of Milan, prepares to welcome the Le Mans Series for the second race of the 2008 season. A fantastic opening round in Barcelona saw Peugeot, Porsche, Corvette and Ferrari win their respective classes but their rivals have had three weeks to form a response.
The next two races, here in Italy and in Spa, Belgium in May, will be critical not only for the 2008 title race, but also for the Le Mans 24 hours in June.
The French race is a major focus for many of the teams and Monza's long straights should help to give a clear picture of the true level of competition for Le Mans. Subtle changes have been made to the Le Mans Series year, including an association with Info Course which allows fans following on-line to keep up to date with the latest scoring and pit notes.
Sunday's autograph session will take place in the paddock in front of the team trucks to enable the Italian crowd to have better access to their hero drivers.
Extensive preparations are expected to help to boost the crowd figures beyond the 28,000 that attended the three days in Spain three weeks ago, and the 20,000 that attended this race in 2007.
With the battle for overall supremacy raging between the two diesel-powered manufacturers, Audi and Peugeot, there is plenty to look for in the "LM" P1 category which is boosted in Italy by three new cars, bringing the total to 17.
Having finished second and fifth in Spain with its two cars, Audi heads the manufacturers title against Peugeot by 12 points to 11. However, Peugeot will be out to redress that balance having won the first encounter on European soil this year. Peugeot had a clear run to victory here in 2007, but this year Audi returns to the legendary circuit for the first time since 2004, when Johnny Herbert and Jamie Davies defeated Allan McNish and Pierre Kaffer in the Audi R8.
In Spain three weeks ago, Peugeot proved that it has the pace and reliability to beat the Audi on a high downforce circuit, and now it will have to prove itself on the high speed, 5.793km track.
Stephane Sarrazin and Pedro Lamy's title defence started badly in Barcelona when Sarrazin was hit by the Team Modena Aston Martin, damaging the rear of the 908 Hdi FAP, and the two drivers will be looking to turn their season around this weekend.
The entry list is boosted by the Charouz Racing System team, which has entered a second Lola in the race. However, it will not be the closed coupe that achieved an overall podium position on its debut in Spain in the hands of Stefan Mucke and Jan Charouz. Instead, Klaus Graff and Greg Pickett will drive a Judd-powered Lola B07/17 in this race as part of their build-up to Le Mans.
Also joining the regulars in the class, including the Chamberlain Synergy, Pescarolo Sport and Team ORECA, is the second Creation AIM CA-07. Stuart Hall moves from the car he shared with Jamie Campbell-Walter and Felipe Ortiz to the sister entry with Robbie Kerr. The team will be hoping for better luck at this second race, having suffered a slipping clutch during the opening round which left them yet to score points.
The Spanish team Epsilon Euskadi, which is enjoying its debut season, will also have a second car, joining that driven by Angel Burgueno and Miguel de Castro.
No change, no problem in "LM" P2
There are no changes to the "LM" P2 category this weekend and so we can expect another thrilling encounter between Porsche, Lola, Radical, Lucchini, Zytek, Pescarolo and Embassy Racing. Each of these racing car constructors is well represented by high quality teams, and each has a clear view of the podium. Dutchman Peter van Merksteijn, sharing his Porsche RS Spyder with former Grand Prix driver Jos Verstappen, was the find of the Spanish race, matching John Nielsen's times during their battle for the lead of the class.
Hard on their heels was the Speedy Racing Team Sebah Lola coupe which led the class on a stunning debut.
There is plenty of development potential in each of these new cars, and much is expected of them this season. Tommy Erdos and Mike Newton, the reigning champions, will be expecting to be far closer to frontrunning pace after experiencing engine management problems in Spain which robbed them of power and increased their fuel consumption.
One team that was desperately unlucky in Spain was the Barazi Epsilon Zytek which was retired after an unusual accident with a Peugeot. Marc Gene hit a kerb and launched into the air, crashing into the side of the Zytek before the Spaniard went on to win on home turf.
Beretta joins Alphand for Monza
Competition will be typically fierce in the "LM" GT1 category where supercars from Corvette, Aston Martin, Lamborghini and Saleen will again go head-to-head. The thundering V8 of the Corvette provides a perfect antidote to the high pitch wail of the Aston Martin and Lamborghini V12s, the latter manufacturer hoping to receive extra support from a fiercely loyal home crowd.
Former Le Mans winner, ALMS and FIA GT Champion Olivier Beretta will return to the Le Mans Series for the first time since the 1000 mile race in Interlagos in November 2007, replacing Luc Alphand in one of the team's two Corvette C6.Rs. Beretta is one of the most successful GT drivers in the world and joins Guillaume Moreau and Patrice Goueslard, winners of the opening race in Spain.
However there, the three faced tough competition from the Team Modena Aston Martin DBR9 of Antonio Garcia and Tomas Enge. After an eventful race, Enge was left stranded out on track apparently out of fuel, though the team were later able to confirm that he had enough to complete another lap.
Lamborghini has a lot of work to do to catch up the pace of the leaders, but in Spain a completely reliable race allowed Peter Kox and his Russian team-mate Romain Rusinov finish on the podium.
Ferrari on high, Porsche to fight back
One of the key questions in endurance motor sport was answered in Spain as Ferrari's 430 GT had the measure of Porsche's new 997 challenger, but that does not mean that the fight is over.
Porsche teams have been extremely competitive in the American Le Mans Series and will fight back through their well supported teams, including IMSA Performance Matmut, Team Felbermayr Proton and Farnbacher Racing.
The "LM" GT2 cars may not be the fastest on the circuit, but the competition is no less fierce and the cars no less stunning as Ferrari and Porsche are joined by Aston Martin's V8 Vantage and Spyker is using the series to debut its new C8 Laviolette GT2R.
Reigning "LM" GT2 drivers' champion Rob Bell, sharing this year with Gianmaria Bruni, had an excellent race in Spain in their Virgo Motorsport Ferrari 430 GT. The pair used the test sesion at Paul Ricard in March to work hard on car set up for every circuit, so expect to be as competitive on the high speed Monza track as they were in Barcelona.
Maurice Basso is joined in the JMB Racing Ferrari 430GT by Dutchman Peter Kutemann this weekend, while the Farnbacher Racing Ferrari will be driven by Pierre Kaffer and Pierre Ehret as Anthony Beltoise has other racing commitments.